Experts reveal how to finally get the piles of letters, junk mail, and bills under control.
Many of us deal with it: stacks of mail in random areas all over the house, from the kitchen counter to the home office. In fact, Ellen Delap, president of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, says that even in the age of autopay and e-billing, mail clutter is one of the most common reasons clients call her. If it's an issue for you, chances are you’re making one of these common—but totally fixable—mistakes, she adds. Keep reading to find out how to tackle that tower of mail for good. Forget about inbox zero, we’re all about achieving mailbox zero.
You wait to throw away junk mail.
As soon as you walk into your home, bundle of mail in hand, quickly flip through and dispose of all the obvious junk. “If you don’t do this, your mail pile looks more overwhelming,” says Joni Weiss, certified professional organizer and co-owner of Practically Perfect. Make it extra easy on yourself by setting a trash can near where you keep the mail, so you can toss unwanted flyers, circulars, and catalogs without a second thought.
You don’t have a designated place for mail.
One of the simplest ways to control mail clutter is to designate a specific area for it, instead of having some mail strewn across your kitchen counter and the rest piled up in the den. “Every household should have a landing spot for the mail,” says Kitt Fife, certified professional organizer and co-owner of Practically Perfect. For many people this ends up being an entry table or kitchen counter, but any high-traffic area is fair game. “It should look attractive and fit in visually with the space you’re using,” Dulap adds.
You toss all your mail in one giant basket.
Even if your mail is hidden in a chic bin, it’s going to get out of control fast without a system. Delap recommends taking a few minutes every day to sort mail into categories that are contained in smaller organizers, like a desktop sorter, magazine holders, or hanging folders. “It’s overwhelming staring at a whole box or basket instead of a magazine file’s worth,” she says. “The mail builds up faster in a good way—you become responsible for dealing with it more often.” She suggests keeping anything that requires action in your mail spot (think: an invitation that requires an RSVP, bills that are due, or coupons with an upcoming expiration date). Paperwork that doesn’t require action can be placed in a separate category—or categories—to be processed at a later date, whether that’s filing, scanning, or shredding it.
Your mail area is out of the way.
Your upstairs home office might be an amazing refuge when you want to work in peace, but unless you’re walking by every day on your way from the mailbox, it’s not the best place for mail. “If you have to do an extra step, you won’t follow-through," says Fife. "It has to be part of the routine you’ve already established. Think about where you drop your keys or sunglasses. That’s where you want your system set up. Make it as easy for yourself as possible.” She also suggests considering a portable system, like a tray, magazine files, or a rolling cart you can easily move from your designated mail spot to wherever you pay bills or file paperwork.
You aren’t making the most of vertical storage options.
Small space dwellers, rejoice: Countertops and tabletops aren’t the only spots for your mail spot, you can hang storage areas too. An open area on the wall can be just as helpful, especially if you’re working with limited surface area. “Mount cute clipboards or a hanging letter organizer,” suggests Delap.
You haven’t established a mail routine.
Mail shouldn't stay in the spot you've designated for it permanently—you need to either recycle it or file it away, so the organizer of your choice doesn't become impossible to manage. Delap suggests having a time where you regularly go through all your mail, perhaps at the end of every week. “Make sure you work on it when you’re high energy because there are a lot of decisions to make,” she adds. “For most people, addressing paper clutter is the lowest part of their week, so put on music or have a coffee while you work.”
You hold onto all mail with personal information.
There are certain pieces of mail that you don’t necessarily need to keep but you can’t just throw in the trash, such as forms with account numbers or sensitive medical information. Rather than letting this mail float in paper limbo indefinitely, devise a plan to deal with it. Investing in a paper shredder is one option. “My kids help me shred," says Weiss. "They put in one paper at a time, and it keeps them busy.”
If the DIY approach isn't your thing, consider using a service that does the shredding for you. “I don’t have the patience to shred individual documents," says Fife. "I have a space in my office where I collect everything that has personal info. I’ll do a once over with a sharpie, then I put it in a big bag, and every other month I take it to a shredding service." Another solution: Use an identity theft protection stamp to blot out personal info so you can dispose of mail immediately.